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(55,445 posts)
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 02:52 PM Apr 2016

The Racist, Twisted History of Tipping

Fresh out of college and working as an unpaid intern for a San Francisco nonprofit, I paid the bills by moonlighting at an Indian restaurant in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. My hostess job entailed long stretches of boredom punctuated by a cacophonous frenzy. There were icy glares from impatient diners and reprimands from managers for drifting from my podium, but compared with most restaurant workers, I was sitting pretty: My hourly rate exceeded California's minimum wage, I was tipped out by the servers at the end of each shift, and I even received health care benefits—a city mandate.

Very few of America's 11 million restaurant workers share my story. The federal minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 an hour, but in 18 states servers, bussers, and hosts are paid just $2.13—less than the price of a Big Mac. This is known as the federal "tipped minimum wage" because, in theory, these food workers will make up the difference in tips. Twenty-five states and DC have their own slightly higher tipped minimums. The remaining seven, including California, guarantee the full state minimum wage to all workers.

On the surface, tipping seems little more than a reward for astute recommendations and polite, speedy service. But the practice has unsavory roots, as Saru Jayaraman, a labor activist and author of Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, told me during a taping of Bite, the new food and politics podcast from Mother Jones. The origin of the word is unclear—one theory says "tip" is shorthand for "to insure promptness"; another suggests it's from 17th-century thief slang meaning "to give." In any case, European aristocrats popularized the habit of slipping gratuities to their hosts' servants, and by the mid-1800s rich Americans, hoping to flaunt their European sophistication, had brought the practice home.

Restaurants and rail operators, notably Pullman, embraced tipping primarily, Jayaraman says, because it enabled them to save money by hiring newly freed slaves to work for tips alone. Plenty of Americans frowned upon the practice, and a union-led movement begat bans on tipping in several states. The fervor spread to Europe, too, before fizzling in the United States—by 1926, the state tipping bans had been repealed.

America's first minimum-wage law, passed by Congress in 1938, allowed states to set a lower wage for tipped workers, but it wasn't until the '60s that labor advocates persuaded Congress to adopt a federal tipped minimum wage that increased in tandem with the regular minimum wage. In 1996, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who was then head of the National Restaurant Association, helped convince a Republican-led Congress to decouple the two wages. The tipped minimum has been stuck at $2.13 ever since.


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brer cat

(24,743 posts)
2. I didn't know the history of tipping.
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 03:41 PM
Apr 2016
The racist origins of tipping persist, meanwhile, in the take-home wages of nonwhite restaurant workers, who earn 56 percent less than their white colleagues.

'Twas always thus it seems.

marble falls

(58,080 posts)
5. I love working for tips, I do and have done very well with it, thankyou, even at $2.13/hr, and ....
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 04:30 PM
Apr 2016

even with the $0.00 paychecks that I get a lot of.



(3,457 posts)
6. What's your average hourly wage? Do you pay taxes on your tips?
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 04:42 PM
Apr 2016

Is Social Security withheld? That becomes important as you get older.


(56,582 posts)
9. When I was delivering pizza
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 11:22 PM
Apr 2016

I would report my tips every night and my taxes were based on that complete number. Basically when you're driving pizzas around your salary is just to cover your health insurance and SS/Medicare/income taxes; your actual money is from the tips and mileage.

You could just lie and say you didn't get any tips that night, but then a) why risk it and b) if you ever wanted to buy a house or new car or whatever down the road you would want to make it clear you're actually making more than minimum wage (we at least were making the actually minimum wage, which IIRC was like $5.15 at the time). This was 20 years ago (oy!) but a good night would be about $80 in tips; a mediocre one would be $50. It was a really, really busy store though; some places probably did a lot worse.

marble falls

(58,080 posts)
11. I always claimed ALL my tips, at Green Pastures (in Austin) I made over 50K a year, ....
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 11:37 PM
Apr 2016

at Horse Shoe Bay Yacht Club working 18 to 20hrs over three days a week, I made over $25K a year. I contract out to local caterers, cater private homes and two local local country clubs on call and my rate is $25/hr with a minimum of four hours and a maximum of six with $30/hr over six hours.

My $0.00 paychecks are from Doc's here in Marble Falls and I never ever fell below $15/hr in tips.

I'm on SS now and I never ever lied about my income on my returns and I advise ALL waiters not to lie about SS. Do not let management talk you into it, either.

I'm also a single father who brought up two daughters.


(24,544 posts)
10. I never knew! BT, can you add this to the black history thread pinned to the top of this forum?
Thu Apr 28, 2016, 11:34 PM
Apr 2016


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